3/26 Hill Challenge – Are you really going to ascend Soledad four times?

No matter which route you chose last Saturday, your legs were in for a challenging day.  When you don’t even really consider Torrey Pines in the climb count, you know it’s going to be tough.

at torrey

As usual for our most difficult rides, we had a huge turnout last Saturday morning.  It’s always impressive how much you all love to be challenged!  I began by briefly explaining the route, with special emphasis on where the different routes overlapped in case anyone decided to bail on the remainder of the route at any given time.  All groups were heading south, up Torrey Pines first, then down through the Gilman-Rose Canyon route toward the south base of Soledad.  Your choice at this point was to take arguably one of the most difficult pitches up Soledad (Pacifica), or venture a tiny bit farther down the street and go for the long, but much gentler Soledad Mountain Climb.  A surprising number of brave souls opted for the Pacifica route.

at mission bay 2

Climb 1:  Pacifica Drive (0.7 miles, 11% average) to Soledad Mountain Road (1.4 miles, 3%)

I had never climbed Pacifica Drive before. I may never climb Pacifica Drive again.  I had seen it from the freeway – I’m sure you have, too. It’s the awful looking pitch on the left side of I-5 as you head north past Pacific Beach.  It’s made of concrete most of the way, which is never a good sign.  Concrete = pain, and there were more than a few sore, mis-firing back muscles after that one.  And don’t let the 11% average fool you – that almost sounds doable.  It only sounds that way because there’s a deceiving little stretch of flat-ish road in the middle that lulls you into a tiny sense of complacency before laying on the mostly >11% thick from that point on.

start of pacifica


Soo grinding up Pacifica.  This angle does it pretty good justice.

It was hard not to smile when I knew the worst was behind me.  Or was it?

me at end of pacifica

Climb 2:  Cardeno (1.7 miles, 5%)

After taking in the incredible sights on the La Jolla Mesa/Scenic descent (definitely one of my favorites in San Diego), we journeyed through Pacific Beach on Turquoise Street in search of our next climb, Cardeno.  Deceptively steep at first, I was afraid I should keep out of hitting/throwing distance of the rest of the group.  I said this was definitely easier than Pacifica, and sure enough, after 0.6 miles at 8%, it definitely becomes more gradual.  This was a climb to “loosen up” after the Pacific monstrosity (and to prepare for what was coming).

This was one of the main decision points of the ride – have I had enough, or do I want to continue to flog my legs into submission?  More than a few people made the wise decision here to head back with Jill, who was leading the B group.  I’m afraid to say that most times when people get to pick between continuing with Jill, or continuing with me (especially when  my husband is along), almost always Jill is chosen.  “When in doubt, pick Jill.”  It’s sort of like a campaign slogan.


One of the crossroads of the ride – where Cardeno, Nautilus, and La Jolla Mesa come together.

Climb 3:  Linda Rosa – La Jolla Corona to La Jolla Ranch (my favorite) . 2.1 miles, 4%

That little group on the far side of the intersection in the picture above is what remained of the crew that continued on to the next climb.  We were down to six.  We descended La Jolla Mesa/Scenic, and meandered over to our next climb.  We came to it a little more suddenly than I remembered, although I did remember the 20% pitch that is the start of Linda Rosa.  I failed to convey that to the rest of the team that hung in with me.  I thought that little surprise was best left unsaid until it was right in front of us.  It’s short, I thought, no one will be scarred.

I guess I’ll have to ask Soo to verify she wasn’t scarred, but it was a little shocking for her – especially with a truck parked right in the middle of the road leaving little room for error.  We all made it up in one piece to begin the main portion of the climb on La Jolla Corona.  You have to squeeze through a couple of pedestrian gates, but this climb is well worth the effort.  Turn right on La Jolla Rancho and come all the way out near the top – you won’t regret it.  Views, homes, steep mixed with not steep – this route up has it all.

Climb 4:  Country Club (1.2 miles, 9%) – Another one bites the dust

And then there were five. But to be fair to Carol, she had a commitment or otherwise, she was definitely “in it to win it” in terms of climbing to the bitter end.  I think someone asked, “Are you sure you really want to do this one?”  There was no question – the route must be completed.

The 9% average grade number is again, deceiving.  Much of the Country Club climb is unrelentingly steep.  There are a few tiny breaks where you have to manage some gates, but most of it feels like endless hell.  It’s pretty awesome.

Special kudos goes out to Soo, who was the only woman rider left with me at the top after Country Club.  It’s especially amazing, as she just started riding last August.

soo and me

Heather B and Soo at the top of Soledad following climb 4

The Return Trip

I will come clean and admit that we didn’t take the originally planned route home.  The last major climb was to be La Jolla Shores to Expedition Way, which is another steep climb none of us felt like we needed that morning.  We took the easy way out up Torrey Pines Road, and took a flushing coast ride back to Nytro.  I walked into Nytro looking pretty much fully dazed and confused and mumbled something like, “Hungry…,” and they brought me some snacks to keep me from totally falling apart.  It was a morning well spent.

The Rest of the Crew 

With Torrey Pines, one or two ascents of Soledad, and climbing up La Jolla Shores on the return trip, the other two groups didn’t exactly have a walk in the park.  A challenging day all around, these are always my favorite rides!  The next hill challenge will be April 23rd, so put it on your calendar now.

at ped bridge

Heather K leads the C group across the Pedestrian walkway across Torrey Pines Road


Laura climbing La Jolla Shores

hk with la jolla shores

Heather K with the gorgeous La Jolla Shores view behind


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